I hate that this even needs to be addressed, but these ridiculous comparisons have to stop.
Part of covering the Michigan football program means being plugged in to what the fanbase is feeling, thinking and saying. While the majority of fans appear fed up with making excuses for Jim Harbaugh, there are still those who are ready and willing to defend him. Defending Jim Harbaugh is no easy task based on his record alone, which is why many of those supporters have resorted to coaching comparisons in order to make themselves feel better about a problem that is glaringly obvious to the rest of us.
So without further ado, here is why Jim Harbaugh is not Dabo Swinney, Brian Kelly or any of the other coaches that Michigan fans will often use as an excuse for coming up short.
1. Dabo Swinney
Year One: Dabo Swinney became the interim head coach at Clemson during the 2008 season, taking over for Tommy Bowden six games into the year. In his first full season as head coach of the Clemson Tigers (2009), Swinney led the Tigers to a 9-5 season that included a divisional title and a Music City Bowl game victory against Kentucky.
Year Three: In his third season as head coach (2011), Swinney’s Tigers finished 10-4 and captured the ACC conference championship - their first since 1991. The Tigers would also make a trip to the Orange Bowl that year, which was the first time Clemson had made a major bowl game since the 1981 season.
Year Four: In his fourth season, Dabo Swinney captured the first 11-win season at Clemson since 1981. The Tigers defeated No.8 LSU in the Chick-fil-A Bowl and Dabo Swinney was named as a finalist for Coach of the Year.
Year Five: In his fifth season, Swinney once again led the Tigers to an 11-win season and a BCS bowl bid where they defeated the Ohio State Buckeyes in the Orange Bowl. The win over Ohio State gave Swinney his fourth win over a top-ten opponent as head coach at Clemson, and the Tigers would finish the season ranked within the AP top ten (No.8).
Year Six: In his sixth season, Swinny led Clemson to its fourth 10+ win season in a row. Swinney also defeated Oklahoma in the Russell Athletic Bowl, giving him his third straight bowl win and finishing the season ranked No.15 in the AP.
Summary: By year six of Dabo Swinney’s tenure at Clemson, he had won divisional titles, conference titles, beaten Ohio State, had four-straight 10+ win seasons, had a 4-2 bowl record, and had four wins against top-ten ranked opponents. For what it’s worth, Swinney had his Tigers in the National Championship game by year seven.
2. Brian Kelly
Year Three: After putting together two 8-win seasons in his first two years as head coach of the Irish, Brian Kelly led Notre Dame to a 12-1 season and a National Championship appearance in year three (2012). During the season, the Irish defeated Navy (in Dublin, Ireland), No.10 Michigan State, No.18 Michigan, No.17 Stanford, and No.8 Oklahoma. The Irish finished undefeated at home for the first time since 1998 and became the No.1 ranked team in the nation for the first time ever in the BCS era. The Irish finished the regular season with a perfect 12-0 record, and Brian Kelly was named Coach of the Year for the second time in his career. Notre Dame would ultimately fall to Alabama in the National Championship game, but would finish the year ranked No.4 in the AP.
Summary: Brian Kelly took over an Irish program that had struggled mightily under Charlie Weiss. In the three years prior to Kelly’s arrival, Notre Dame had put together a lousy 16-21 record. It took Kelly just three years to turn that into a National Championship contender. In addition to the National Championship appearance in year three, Kelly was also named coach of the year, had multiple wins against top-ten teams, and put together an overall bowl record of 3-3 by year six.
3. Nick Saban
Year One-Year Five: This one takes the top spot as the most ridiculous comparison that is made, so I’ll make it quick. Nick Saban won three National Championships in his first five seasons at Alabama. Jim Harbaugh hasn’t even won his division.
Summary: Stop it.
In closing, the coaches that are often used by Michigan fans as comparisons for Jim Harbaugh have actually accomplished things. Big things. Things that warrant buy-in from their respective universities and fan bases. Outside of winning percentage (which is fool's gold), there isn’t a single noteworthy accomplishment for Jim Harbaugh during his first six seasons in Ann Arbor. There’s no doubt that Harbaugh is setting records, but he’s doing so for all the wrong reasons. No wins against Ohio State, no divisional championships, no conference championships, no playoff trips, no national championships.
The coaches mentioned above have accomplished some or all of those things within their first six seasons.
Stop making these ridiculous comparisons.